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Sinn Fein divided on fresh approach or stick to old guard

By Staff Reporter

A major division has emerged within Sinn Fein over who may be appointed as the next Deputy First Minister, sources have said.

It is understood party president Gerry Adams is anxious that veteran MLA Conor Murphy does not secure the position, instead favouring the younger Mid-Ulster MLA Michelle O'Neill.

Eyebrows have been raised in recent weeks over why Mr Adams, who is a TD for Co Louth, has remained in Northern Ireland for so long.

Ms O'Neill has taken a notable lead in terms of Sinn Fein's public response to the unfolding cash for ash crisis, and is becoming the public face of the party in Northern Ireland in the absence of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

She is also understood to be Mr McGuinness' preferred choice to succeed him, while there is another wing of the party that would prefer Mr Murphy.

The Mid Ulster woman is regarded as a fresher face with no criminal past and there is support within the party to nominate its first female Deputy First Minister.

She started her political career as a councillor in Dungannon in 2005 before first being elected to the Assembly for Mid-Ulster in 2007. Ms O'Neill has served as Agriculture Minister and remains as Health Minister until election day.

Mr Adams and Mr Murphy share life-long involvements with the republican movement.

Mr Murphy, from Camlough in south Armagh, is believed to have joined the Provisionals during the 1981 hunger strikes. In 1982 he was sentenced to five years in prison for IRA membership and possession of explosives. At that stage Mr Adams from west Belfast - who had been interned in the 1970s - was leading a growing Sinn Fein and became its first elected in MP for several decades in 1983.

Mr Murphy first became involved in elected politics for Sinn Fein in 1989 as a councillor in Newry.

In 1998 both men were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Adams for West Belfast and Mr Murphy for Newry and Armagh, and re-elected in 2003.

In 2005 Mr Murphy joined Mr Adams as an abstentionist MP and the pair also served at Stormont together until 2011, when Mr Adams stepped down, and was later elected as TD for Louth.

The pair remain among the most high profile senior members of Sinn Fein, and with Mr Adams' move to the Dail, Mr Murphy had at one time been the front runner to become the next deputy First Minister.

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